Nothing seems to be coming easy for new NIU head coach Brian Hammel.
After his Huskies dropped their first two games this season, including a 76-71 loss at Marquette on Thanksgiving Day, NIU seemed to be poised to notch an easy victory Saturday when it faced Division III Aurora.
But most of the Huskies had shown up late for practice and Hammel punished the tardy Huskies by benching them for the first half. With only six players at his disposal, including two walk-ons, Hammel started four guards, Brian Molis, Brad Lindsay, David Mitchell and Mike Hidden, and 6-4 freshman Marlin Simms at center.
Undermanned Aurora managed to keep it close for a half, but the Huskies piled it on in the second half to give Hammel his first NIU victory, 94-59 in front of 1,619 at Chick Evans Field House.
The offensive output was the highest point total for NIU since 1985 against Lamar.
Hammel, however, was not happy with his squad’s performance.
“I was not pleased with our game at all—we had way too many unforced errors … you can’t be a good basketball team when you’re comitting unforced turnovers,” Hammel said. “Defensively, we still have a long way to go. I wasn’t satisfied at all.”
The visitors slowed the game down in the first half and managed to stay within 39-31 at intermission. But the bigger, more talented Huskies (1-2) wore down Aurora (0-4) in the closing half.
The Huskies held Aurora to 32 percent shooting in the closing half and used an early 9-0 run to break the game open.
“We just had more talent,” Hammel said. “The longer the game, the more talent takes over and that’s certainly what happened here (Saturday).
“There’s no substitute for good talent and certainly Northern Illinois had more talent than Aurora.”
“There’s a big difference in Division I and Division III,” agreed Aurora head coach Don Holler.
Leading the way for NIU was the 6-5 Hidden, who tallied a “triple-double”—18 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists.
“What (Hidden) does is sacrifice whatever it takes to get it done. He has an inner desire, that if it could wear off on a few of the other guys, it would be outstanding,” Hammel said.
“He also does a good job on the defensive end, which doesn’t show up on the stats.”
Molis led all scorers with 19 points, followed by Mitchell with 18. Aurora guard Keith Avery led the losers with 17.
Hammel’s satisfaction in winning his first game at the Huskies’ helm was tempered by the play of his squad.
“I don’t get caught up in wins and losses as much as the team playing well and coming together,” Hammel said. But the win “is a heck of a lot nicer than a loss,” he added.
The Huskies get their next chance to please Hammel when they travel to Ohio to take on Xavier Wednesday.
‘Sophomore guard Mike Lipnisky continues to sit out with aggravation in his lower back.